Kris woke up shaking. An old dream, but too vivid to just be a simple dream. He shook his head and climbed off the cot in the back of the wagon. The axles bounced underneath him, and he started remembering.
The night before, Katie was helping him. Trying to help him.
Just focus. That's all it is. Don't resist. Your body knows, your heart knows, your Gift knows. They all know what to do. Your mind just needs to let them do what they want to do, what they need to do. Your mind just needs to watch and learn. Your own experience is your best teacher.
"But what about you? And stop that mindspeak stuff. You know it gives me a headache."
"Sorry. I just-- I know the books. I've read the theories and methods. I know the teachings! That was enough for me, to be able to do it. You need the experience, a guiding mind. But I don't have any practice: it's all book learning. You've been out in the real world, not trapped in that hut with Paul."
Kris shook his head.
"I know it's hard. Your mind and body have aged and are nearly set in their ways for life. But you can still grow and change and learn new things. You have plenty of time."
"No, we don't. Never enough time. We're racing to stop something and we don't even know where or what it is. I don't even know how you can lead us. They don't know where we are, I certainly don't know even with all my wandering. I don't think you even know."
Katie shook her head, shrugging. "It's the book."
"You can't read it!"
"No, not yet. But I can feel it. I can feel what it wants. It's much like when I came into your mind, or Paul’s'. But it's a different experience. It-- It's not conscious like we are, it's--well, I suppose you could call it its mind--knows what it wants and doesn't jump around so much. Language is a minor barrier in the landscape of the mind."
"So, then, where are we going?"
Katie took his hand, and Kris let her in. "Not where. When. We're going Home." She showed him the vision, and he blacked out when she pulled away.
It was the first time she came into his mind.
Something was wrong with him, he was trapped in his head and somebody else was controlling his body. Sometimes it would let him out, then laugh at him when he tried to get help. Nobody would understand.
One day it had let him out, thinking they were alone. Kris came out and stretched, cramped from being pushed into a corner of his mind. This time, he just started talking. The thing that controlled him, that had taken over his body, had control of his mind speak.
But this time, Katie was nearby, and she heard both sides of it. Dear little Katie, once a cute little sister; but now older and wiser thanks to Paul's machinations, though she always seemed to be blessed with understanding. Katie had approached her older brother, took his hand, and smiled. "I hear you, Kris," she had said.
Afterward, he could never find the words to properly describe it. His mind had been his most private sanctuary, violated by the thing, and then by Katie. But she was so gentle, her touch careful, not wreaking havoc. One moment his mind felt very full with three consciousnesses. Two of them fought each other indescribably, while Kris tried, helplessly weakened, to stay out of their way. They trampled through his memories and his thoughts, his hopes, dreams and secrets.
He thought it would never end, but suddenly one of them was gone. The other soon followed, much more gently, closing the door to his mind carefully behind her. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was Katie smiling up at him, holding his hand.
When he woke, she was still there by his side.
Kris jumped when Katie touched his shoulder, and his thoughts returned to the present.
"No, it's alright." There was that face again, aged, but the smile was still the same.
"What is it?"
He hadn't realized he was staring at her. "Nothing. I was just remembering." He lifts up the band that's around his wrist, and a thought comes to him. "Transparent, so transparent and faded. But it wants to be bright; it shines so bright. When his shines, I wonder if the color fades, knowing it shouldn't be...."
"Kris, what are you thinking?"
"I know where we're going, now. I know who he is."
It was a word that once meant little to him, before Paul came and showed them that they were so much more and had no choice in the matter. Before they were led outside the world that Kris sought to escape from as a child, and now, instead of it pulling them back, Kris could feel it pushing, pushing them away. Nonetheless, Kris, with Katie at his side, pushed back.
Home was where Katie, so precocious, saw the Bands that were hers, her brother's, and Paul's, before she knew what any of it meant, and now, knowing so much more, felt so less certain of her path. All those years, as they felt like now, spent with Paul in the hut, learning and growing and guided, had amounted to so little in the shadow of her grown little brother.
Oh Paul, if only you were here, she mindspoke, focusing on his bandwidth, but there was no response.
Home was where Kris lost himself the first time, was given help by his sister, and brought back to himself; where Kris lost himself a second time, and was offered a hand up, but slapped it away; where he made his choice by refusing to choose, and found his way in the world still. Along his path he had made fewer friends than enemies, but came into his own power all the same. Although battered, he was stronger for it, in ways neither he nor his sister had yet come to realize.
Home, where their mother once lived, though they both knew she didn't wait for their return, didn't expect it, didn't miss them, and had resigned her two children to non-existence; where their mother once was, though Kris could no longer see her face or hear her voice, and Katie could no longer feel her touch.
Home. They were going home.
Don and Nol sat separated, one in the front of the wagon, holding the reins, the other watching out the rear curtains. Though physically apart, they were still in touch with each other, from long practice, partnership, and similarity of minds.
The landscape around them was wreathed in thick fog, shifting about them and teasing their eyes and minds with shapes that could not have been, should not be, whether they tormented their past memories and nightmares or not. Early in the journey to the place Katie called Home with a spark in her eyes and Kris dull in his, she asked them to bind the horses' eyes and trust in their footing. Don and Nol did so, the horses patient and calm with their familiar and light touch, and indeed, they had not yet stumbled or falter, and Katie and Kris had not led them stray.
Strange shapes appeared so fleetingly out of the mists that both the fore and rear guards, Don and Nol, doubted their senses but made them ever grateful of the early request.
The creaking of the axels and familiar shapes in the mist brought Nol back into his memories. The rattling changed, from a dirt track to a gravel road in his ears and mind, and the memories came rushing back.
Nol watched out the back curtains of the swaying wagon as his mother and step-father argued at the reins. It didn't much matter what they were arguing about, he didn't hear it anymore; between the slowly changing landscape, the tamest part of nature, and his growing and wild imagination, he didn't even see his parents most of the time. Life was good as long at you didn't think about it too much.
In his dreams, the sidekick to the hero got equal attention to his part, which more often than not was more than the hero. He dreamt of the afterglow of the flashes of limelight and the long and arduous adventures in between; adventures drawn out way past suppertime and again beginning at the crack of dawn.
The wagon jerked to a halt, and footsteps trotted around the side. But instead of seeing his bellowing mother, it was Katie.
"Are you alright, Nol?"
He jerked back, their faces superimposed for one startling moment before he drew back into the present.
"Sorry. I was just—"
"Remembering. I know. The mists do that to all of us. Unfortunately, your memories are leaking into ours, and Kris and I are having a hard enough time meshing our own. We're both missing a lot of pieces."
"Sorry." He hung his head, feeling guilty.
The wagon shifted on its wheels and suddenly Katie was sitting beside him. Nol felt Don jerk the reins, and they were moving again.
"Don't you need to be in front?"
"Sometimes seeing where we've been is as much of a tell as to where we're going as watching the road ahead." She flashed a smile at him. "Besides, I have some remembering of my own to do that Kris doesn't want to think about."
Katie leaned back against the pile of supplies beside Nol, and to his surprise, began to speak.
"As much as I remember of growing up before meeting Paul and finding out about the Bands, I remember almost nothing of my mother, and nothing at all of my father. It's not that she wasn't there—he wasn't, certainly—instead, she was an active part of my life. Other memories have just grown in stronger."
"Sometimes, it's the bad time we remember the strong," interjected Nol."
Katie opened her eyes and smiled at him. "Exactly. Fortunately, she's not the reason we're going back, and a large part of me prays she isn't there." Katie closed her eyes once more.
"Anyway, Kris was often getting into trouble as we were growing up, more out of not doing things he should have than doing things he shouldn't.
"One day when he was out, playing or dreaming where he shouldn't have been at all, something came over him, and his behavior started going downhill. Kris started doing things that weren't like him, but they worsened so slowly it's hard to pinpoint when it started the day I realized it.
"Mom was out for some reason or another and we were confined to the house and garden. I was outside and Kris was in when I heard his voice change. I didn't try to get any closer to him, knowing that I probably could but didn't want to take that chance.
"The voice… it was so scared. It was Kris's voice, I realized, a voice I hadn't heard in so long, since before his behavior started deteriorating, and the voice I'd been hearing him use since wasn't his at all.
"My big brother was frightened, and for all the times he stood and protected me… I wanted to help him this time.
"When Mom came back, Kris wandered out and I followed carefully. It wasn't the first time I'd done that, but this time, everything would be ruined if he caught me. I trailed farther behind than I'd ever dared before, drawing his into sight only enough to see where he turned in the woods and then letting him slowly leave me behind again. At the last turn,… I'd thought I'd lost him, but he'd stepped through a coarse bramble. I backtracked a bit and found him.
"It was as if whatever had gotten into him was letting him out on a very short leash when nobody else was around, and the rest of the time being imprisoned in his own head.
"I was just trying to reach out to him, before I knew of these things we can do. I whispered 'I hear you, Kris,' and they spun and glared at me. Kris had been fighting for so long but by now he simply ran out of strength….
"The thing inside him pulled him back into that prison so hard that hard body went limp and they both lost control of it. Before I knew it, I was beside him, cradling my big brother's head in my lap. Without knowing what I was doing, my fingers were brushing his hair from his temples and pressing against them, and then I was diving into his head.
"It was such a very long way down, but I wanted to help him so badly. I don't know how long I was in there with him, but I know I made a mess of everything. I trampled through Kris's thoughts as ruthlessly and carelessly as that monster, fighting over the fading spark that was my brother.
"Back then, it was only by sheer force of will that I fought with it then, but I've learned so much since then. I just hope it's enough."
A single tear fell slowly from her eye. "He was never the same afterward, and then Paul came along. Kris was growing stronger but still very weak, as if he wasn't growing evenly all around.
"All Paul wanted to was help, but all Kris saw it as was another attempt to imprison him, so he fell behind and never really learned his way through the mists."
Nol wasn't sure what to say or do, so he simply let Katie finish on her own.
"But when I saw him with you, and holding the Book too, it was so hard to believe. He's found his own way and come into his own strength. He is more whole than I've ever seen." She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
"And now we're searching for that monster you pulled out of him."
"And now we're searching for the last piece to make my brother whole."